[V5] Oblivion Discipline: Full Rewrite (and another hack)

Referring back to the previous post for context: Oblivion has some problems as a Discipline, I’ve attacked it in various different ways, this is probably the most developed. To ensure compliance with the Dark Pack guidelines I won’t be providing full writeups for the actual powers, only page references to Chicago by Night and Cults of the Blood Gods. I’ll add, in italics, any additional rules or changes to those powers as I go along.

It’s only fair, before you hit the wall of text, to say that it’s a lot simpler to just make The Binding Fetter the prerequisite power for all the “ghost path” Ceremonies (the ones with ‘Spirit’ in their name), Ashes to Ashes the prerequisite power for all the “zombie path” Ceremonies (the ones with statblocks for that which is summoned included), and Where The Shroud Thins for Split the Shroud and Ex Nihilo. That’s a really tidy way of doing it and I sort of wish I’d thought of that instead of having someone suggest it on Discord and me going “well, that’s a lot of my brain tape wasted.”

But the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time, and I’m still quite pleased with what I did here, so: let’s begin.

Continue reading “[V5] Oblivion Discipline: Full Rewrite (and another hack)”

[V5] Oblivion Discipline, Bloat and Monobuild: a Take, and some House Rules

Ah, Oblivion. A controversial choice on the part of Onyx Path Publishing, and it really is their baby since it’s been laid out in the two books they’ve produced for V5.

Take the Obtenebration of the Lasombra and the Necromancy of the Giovanni (and the Mortis of the Cappadocians, the Thanatosis of the Samedi, the Nihilistics of the Nagaraja… Vampire necromancy is a right mess, whether you treat it as separate paths of one big thing or an array of similar-but-different Disciplines).

Tie together the obvious commonalities – Kiasyd used to have both! The Abyss, the bad place where the shadows are alive, is correspondent to Oblivion, the bad place that turns wraiths into spectres and defines that whole game line! Something to do with Werewolves, the Labyrinth, the Wyrm, honestly I’m not much of a Werewolf person but it’s there! Lasombra, the Antediluvian, is not as dead as everyone said he was! (spoiler warning for a book that came out in 2005 and has been Wiki-synopsised to death, I suppose. honestly, “spoilers” in an RPG book, who’d have… anyway.)

Then, think like Dawkins – a WoD superfan who’s owned more or less every Vampire book there is to own and actually remembers them all – and decide what if this was all coming from the same place? There’s something at the very bottom of the World of Darkness’ cosmology, it has something to do with ghosts and shadows and spiritually corrosive world poisoning nastiness, it’s always hungry and one day it might devour the world.

It makes sense. Sorry, haters, but from a worldbuilding point of view there’s enough there. From a mechanical point of view… eeeh. Good and bad. It’s great that the Hecata (as they now are) and the Lasombra have a single Discipline in common (much like how Protean has been used to cover the similar-enough remits of the Gangrel, Tzimisce and Followers Ministry of Set), and are otherwise very different in their spreads. (Giovanni and Lasombra having functionally the same spread outside their signature never sat well with me, really.)

However, Oblivion itself has suffered slightly from being developed across two books, by a team who I think might not have been sure they were going to do the second one when the first one was being worked on. As a result, in an age of streamlining Disciplines, eliminating redundancy, and controlling bloat, Oblivion has ended up with four powers per level where most Disciplines only get two, and the understandable desire to gatekeep “necromancy” behind the Ceremony system has led to a weird situation where this huge and flexible discipline has expensive monobuilds.

Continue reading “[V5] Oblivion Discipline, Bloat and Monobuild: a Take, and some House Rules”

[Game Dev] On Mörk Borg, and Free Kriegspiel Vampire, and Bloodspell

Last week, I bought MÖRK BORG.

I did this a) to see what all the fuss was about, b) because since Prince reviewed it I suspected the Dying Earth game of my heart’s desire might be buried in it somewhere, but mostly c) since I needed to round up a distributor order or pay for postage and packaging.

Here is a brief opinion on Mörk Borg: I love an A5-ish rulebook that fits in the same sort of space as my tablet, i.e. in a bag I can actually carry without throwing my back out; the system seems functional with just enough clacky clacky number stones to satisfy people who don’t think they’re playing a game if they don’t roll dice every few minutes; I like the atmosphere but the aesthetic choices throw me in a lot of ways, in particular the typeface changes mid paragraph get on my nerves (Chris Onstad would like a word). Seems fast, random, lethal and kvlt.

Having read it I immediately scurried back to my notes for Black Sand / Red Sun (the OSR-ish skull-and-planet campaign setting I will use the moment I have a face to face group who might be into it) and realised a) I’d written a lot more than I thought I had and b) the system I’d written was extremely close to Mörk Borg. Parallel evolution, really.

And this made me think about systems, and what they’re for, and why so many of us think we have to start with a bespoke system. I rejoined the FKR Discords I used to lurk on and this is something that’s percolated out of those conversations. It’s to do with my weird pathway into RPGs and why I always end up with just enough rules for me, which always feels like not quite enough rules for a “proper game.”

I came in with Fighting Fantasy, which showed very well that 2d6 roll low or 2d6 + X roll high opposed was enough for muscular heroics, railroading your way through a pretend shlocky sword and sorcery film, and things like magic worked as direct hacks to an encounter or challenge. Costs came off your Stamina. Saves came off ever-depleting Luck. People like to sneer at FF and AFF because they were made for an audience of bright children but you know what, the thing works. It was classical fantasy roleplay without the layers of alienating cruft.

When I got into 200+ page rulebook, genre-emulating, grown-up trad RPGs they always ended up hacked down to that basic level of operation. Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer FRP were percentage chance to resolve task and a tracker for wounds or sanity. Vampire in all its forms was compare stat pools, roll a d10 each for a random factor, with four trackers to which costs and consequences might be applied.

By the time I started to engage with the rules as written, I was already a man – and crucially playing with people I didn’t see and speak to every day. In those circumstances I think a heftier rule set compensates for the lack of organically developed trust. And, as with wargaming, when strangers do not place trust in one another they must turn to the rules, and the rules become more elaborate as they have to govern more and more possible interactions…

I could lament this, but to do so is to lament human nature. Of course we are wary around people while we get to know them. And some people like the theatre of rules play, the point of the “game” enterprise for them is assembling known factors to eliminate randomness and overcome challenges. Personally I like board games for that sort of thing, to each hole the peg best fitted and so on, but I understand the desire to blend outcomes.

This, I suppose, is the point of using something recognisably D&D-shaped for a creative endeavour like Black Sand / Red Sun; that a natural “rules are for arbitration and play-shaping, not core gameplay in themselves” roleplayer like me can run it in something like Mörk Borg or the Black Hack and it shouldn’t take that much to scale it up to your dad’s D&D if you have the time and patience to grapple with it.

In the meantime, here’s something else that’s been living in my head rent free while I think about all this. I know I’m not the first person to consider this (Cavegirl’s version is in a similar lane) but again, parallel evolution is the name of the game here. Most people who have fun with V:tM end up boiling away at least some of its convolutions.

It’s Not Quite Free Kriegspiel Vampire, But…

PENELOPE GERMAINE ARMITAGE-STONELEIGH
Cryptographer ; Priestess
Marechal: Status, Domain; Adversaries
Blood Leech: Protean; Against Other Kindred; No Eating Mortals
Lasombra: Dominate, Potence, Obtenebration; No Reflection
Hunger _ _ _ _ _
Humanity _ _ _ _ _
Willpower _ _ _ _ _
Health _ _ _ _ _

Breaking that down, that’s:

CHARACTER NAME
Pre-mortem occupation / Post-mortem occupation (bonus to anything derived from these)
Coterie Type: a couple of advantages and a disadvantage afforded to the whole group
Predator Type: a Discipline (general area of magic powers), a personal advantage and prohibition
Clan: three Disciplines and a disadvantage shared among all members of the clan
And the rest is all trackers. 1-5 because the “three rounds and you’re done” style of contemporary Vampire doesn’t need to go longer.

Rather than each Discipline being a tower of little subsystems and mechanics, they work as general areas; Dominate is anything to do with hypnosis and direct mind control, Potence is anything to do with raw, superhuman strength; Obtenebration is anything to do with weaponising shadows; Protean is anything to do with shapeshifting.

Dice rolls are five d10 plus one for each relevant advantage plus one for teamwork minus one for each relevant disadvantage. The Beast may be Roused to add two more dice but increase Hunger by one.

Dice results are per V5 with Hunger swapping in as I really like the critical/messy critical/bestial failure outcome there. (They’re easier to show than tell, so if you’re not a V5 player, trust me.) Only players roll, against a static target number of successes required (per the back of the V5 ST screen, very useful), and players only roll when Hunger would be interesting. Failures accumulate damage to Willpower, Health or Humanity. Damage loops around from Superficial (/) to Aggravated (X) and if you fill up on Aggravated you’re stuffed.

Keep the core rules this light and I might actually be able to find space in my head for Resonance, Dyscracia and all the other stuff V5 introduces on top of its core loop. More situational advantages and disadvantages, essentially.

Bloodspell

Remember that?

I bring it up because a little while ago, someone said the nicest damn thing to me: they told me that they had bought my game, played my game, enjoyed playing my game, engaged with basically everything in it and it had worked, and would I like to see a drawing of the characters they made with it? And did I want to know that it was my fault they were into other RPGs now?

That’s all I wanted. To know someone bought it not just to “support me” but because they thought it would be good, and that they were proved right. To know that it had been played.

I suspect that’s what’s tilted me back around to roleplaying and making things for it again. I really want to get some sort of face to face group together so I can figure out how to tackle BS/RS without the additional load of Discord gaming. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s not a natural fit for me, and the work of adapting to the medium is going to detract from the learning-how-to-OSR.

[V5] On Thinbloods

I’ve used a Thinblood as a guest star in an ongoing chronicle. I have a player who doesn’t really do long-haul stories (she’s very good, but she doesn’t like games that turn into homework: short, committed arcs are her thing). Her character is a chaotic Gen Z gremlin, connected to the PCs’ Mawla figure (as far as they’re aware IC, she’s his biological daughter and also his childe, only one of which is actually true), and we unleash her on the story whenever we need a session’s breathing room from the Revised-style machinations that take up much of our attention, or need to be dragged down to Planet V5 for some street level problems on the Rack.

It works because a) the Thinblood is connected to something the players have put coterie dots into: they’re invested in Sorcha’s da, so they’re invested in her, and b) because it gives the players someone who’s even more baby than their characters and needs looking after. It helps that c) she has Resources, Looks and a Discipline Affinity: at the start of our chronicle the PCs had two dots in Resources between the three of them and no in-house Oblivion. There’s a strong Hecata presence in the city and none of my original players were playing one, so having a friend who can clue them in to Spooky Goings On is really handy.

I think if you have a similar situation – a player who wants to commit something different to the game and doesn’t necessarily care about the long haul – this kind of occasional guest character works well, and that’s probably the best way to integrate a lone Thinblood (unless you’ve decided to pick a Merit package that lets them act like a less sycophantic ghoul, with capacity to operate in daylight: that can also be fun, but the player still needs to like doing solo scenes and the group dynamic needs to be comfortable with that).

When I was building this chronicle I also seeded a few other thinblood characters (four, plus this one who became a guest PC) and a thinblood-focused plot hook or two, in case the players wanted to give an all-thinblood chronicle a try. The specific story hooks I went for were the Bahari cult (for reasons that don’t necessarily summarise well – how long are you here for conversations about the Last Daughter of Eve, Lilith bullshit, and creative interpretations of the Gehenna canon?) and the Ashe conspiracy introduced through Chicago by Night (making drugs out of vampires, which resonates with both Thin-Blood Alchemy’s use of the body as crucible and the idea of thin-bloods as disposable citizens, tolerated but not valued, nobody caring if they live or die as long as they don’t bring the hammer down on any real Kindred).

I think to make them work you need to either go into Alchemy or a Discipline Affinity. Not both, but certainly one or the other. This isn’t so much a mechanical problem as a thematic one. Justin Achilli once told me that the supernatural powers in the players’ hands are a key element: without it, Vampire is just Mad Men, horrible people doing horrible things to each other for boring reasons. It’s feeding and the blood bond and Disciplines that introduce those lurid, monstrous, capital-G Gothic elements and elevate the game into passion play, and characters without those elements feel a bit… off-message, for Vampire.

One might argue that the thinblood “daywalker” who can fulfil the ghoul niche is a kind of double-negative version of this, rich and strange by their sheer contrast to other vampires, and I think if your table focuses heavily on vampires and vampire society then the thinblood can be a ray of light in the midst of all that. A touchstone with a little t – although now I want to make a Thinblood the focus of a Coterie Type, in the same way that locations or slumbering elders might be. Time to break out that Last Daughter of Eve concept again…

I’d also say it helps to “theory craft” every character in the context of a Session Zero in which you establish what the chronicle’s going to be like, roughly where the arcs are going to go, what dramatic (or tactical) role everyone’s going to take on. Vampire is in my opinion a writer’s room, not a guessing game – it works best when everyone playing is contributing to the makeup of the story, when information is fairly open at the table, and when “what’s going to happen” is less important than “how we’re going to feel about it and deal with it.” Every element of a character from Discipline spreads to Merits and Flaws to Predator Type is a potential contribution to that emergent drama. Thinbloods are no different.

In particular you want to look at what the Thinblood Merits and Flaws enable and complicate, whether they play along the same sectarian lines (good for fitting a Thinblood into a group of full Kindred) or whether they’re all pulling in different ways (good for fostering conflict within a Thinblood group).

You’ll also need to think about feeding. Thinbloods don’t have a Predator Type, and so they don’t have the raw dots in Merits, Abilities and specialities that enable easy feeding. It’s harder for them to just tamp down on the Hunger, which means they’re going to need help, or they’re going to need their consequences managed. In either case, expect feeding to be even more significant than normal, and accidents to be more common.

Bottom line: I think a Thinblood or two can play a role in your proper Kindred chronicle if the players’ interests and preferences create the right space for them. I think an all-Thinblood chronicle is interesting if you want to back away from what classical Vampire is about and really focus on Your Little Guys and how they make it night to night, with both the proper Kindred and the threat of the Second Inquisition as these looming threats they don’t really understand. It would also be fun, maybe, to experiment with different paradigms for vampirism by not having any ‘true’ Kindred around at all – that’d be a neat way to run a lore-agnostic or post-Gehenna chronicle, although by that stage you’re not so much playing Vampire: the Masquerade as using its rules to do your own thing.

[V:tM] How I Design V5 SPCs

The following process is an attempt to patch over one of the most glaring omissions from the V5 book: designing a Storyteller Played Character that operates within a fairly comprehensive sense of “the rules.” At the end of the day the Storyteller is a player too, albeit one with a different set of responsibilities: that’s why I don’t like to call them VtM NPCs, and why I like to have my SPCs operate on the same plane as the players’ characters have to, even if they have a lot of advantages.

(For visual handholds, and because I forgot I had them: a few images of my extended STPC family, as drawn by a Discord buddy I’m afraid I lost touch with. hubris, if you’re out there, thanks a lot for these, they still make me smile!)

Sorcha: a Gifted Fledgling,
do not underestimate her,
but do not estimate her too highly either.

How to build an SPC

Start with a Coterie Type. Yes, really. Your SPCs are part of a social machine; they are embedded in a Domain, they have a web of Backgrounds indicating friends and enemies, thralls and tools. As you go along, assign the Advantage dots from SPCs in a Coterie to their Coterie Backgrounds, indicating the role each Kindred plays in maintaining it. Take the Chasse, Portillon and Lien ratings as a basis but go bigger for more powerful Kindred (the Prince should probably be sitting on a four or five dot Chasse rating). If you find yourself running out of Advantage dots and you still can’t buy everything on the Coterie’s list to the level you want it at, this is a sign that you need to put more SPCs into it: big and powerful Domains need more people to keep them organised!

I do this so I can quantify how the night to night maintenance of a Domain works, and what resources my SPCs have to call on outside of direct confrontation. The PCs don’t necessarily get a fair “fight” but they do get one that exists and operates in the same systemic terms as their abilities, rather than me just going “oh yeah the prince has all this because they’re prince”. If a player asks for something like the Sheriff’s patrol route I can work it out from looking at the Chasse of their Domain (four dots covering three “neighbourhoods” probably means three nights patrolling a week – if you know she’s been there on Tuesday she probably won’t be back around until Friday). I often use the Background ratings of the SPCs to set the base Difficulty of conflicts with them, and of course SPC Backgrounds make great targets for PC Projects if you’re using that subsystem.

Then drill down into the individual characters. Start with a Mortal template from page 185, depending on how strong you want the character to be. Careful observation reveals that a Gifted template is roughly equivalent to a fledgling PC: their Attributes won’t be as strong but their Skills will be more developed. Deadly is super strong and should be reserved for the biggest and baddest dudes around; even my STPC isn’t Deadly! Weak is absolutely feeble in vampire terms and should be reserved for characters whose dramatic role is tied up with failure – Weak Kindred do not survive, they just don’t have the gumption for this life.

If you’re struggling to pick their Skills, assign them a Profession (page 145), a Life Event for each century they’ve been around (page 146) and four or so Pastimes (page 146 again).

Also, look ahead to their Disciplines and Predator Type and make sure they’re appropriately kitted out with the Skills listed there. They don’t have to be good – you might design an SPC to be crap – but consider that three dots is “trained and practising to professional standard” and that an experienced Kindred is probably at that standard in what they need to get by night to night.

If the same Skill comes up twice, assign a Speciality to it, then toss the dots somewhere else (unless you think they really need four or five dots).

Any leftovers get put into the Skills that are important for your chronicle’s style. Mine tend to be Insight, Awareness, Streetwise, Subterfuge and Athletics, because I run a chronicle that’s about second-guessing the motives of others and rolling with a surprise fight when it happens. Your mileage may vary.

Assign their Advantage dots. They should be contributing at least one of the Backgrounds that go along with their Coterie Type, and a few dots to the Domain ratings. The more Advantages they have, the more likely they are to have something for themselves left over. This is by design: Weak and Average Kindred are exploited by Gifted and Deadly Kindred all the damn time. Your Deadly Elder Primogen is probably going to have a backup Haven or two, as well as contributing their Status to the Coterie.

Take all the Flaws from the Mortal Template, as this gives your SPC some weird weaknesses that diligent players can uncover and exploit. (I’m a big fan of Folkloric Banes and Blocks on my elders, for instance.) I think this is an important part of Vampire – the more old and powerful a Kindred is, the more they need a few specific eccentricities and vulnerabilities. It makes them feel more inhuman, and it gives the PCs a fighting chance.

Choose a Predator Type for them. This answers the super specific personal question of how this vampire gets the blood they need, and keeps the character grounded in vampirism. Give your SPCs both of the either/or Specialities to represent them having some different developed strategies for feeding. Give them all the Backgrounds too, and keep these personal – they’re probably not contributing these to their Coterie, these are the ones they keep for themselves and rely on when they’re feeding. Exceptions will of course exist: if you’re building a Blood Cult Coterie, they probably share their Herd, and if your Coterie are all Osiris types who are in a band, they probably have collective Fame. Filter all this through some logic, you know?

Then, add their “vampire stuff.” The Discipline dots from Predator Type are administrated here. SPCs generally get a boost in Blood Potency if they’ve been around for a while, which helps them compensate for their slightly inferior stat pools. We’ll get into this later, but SPCs shouldn’t be afraid to Surge for extra dice when they need to, and lean on their Discipline rerolls to make them more efficient vampires.

Fledgling

■ ■ 1 Blood Potency, Humanity 7
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (2, 1), Predator Type (+1 from one)

Neonate

■ ■ 2 Blood Potency, Humanity 6
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (2, 1), Predator Type (+1 in both), +1 anywhere

Ancilla

■ ■ 3 Blood Potency, Humanity 5
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (3, 2, 1) Predator Type (+ 1 in both), +2 anywhere

Elder

■ ■ 4 Blood Potency, Humanity 4
■ ■ Disciplines: Clan (4, 3, 2) Predator Type (+1 in both), +3 anywhere

Adjust all this by Predator Type as normal, so a really scary throat ripping Elder might get Blood Leech (for Blood Potency 5 Humanity 3) or a particularly kindly Ancilla might take Consensualist (for Humanity 7, probably a better person than the PCs).

Alistair: if I’d known how much the players would love him,
I’d have made him Deadly,
just to nail the sheer badassery they think he has.

You can do a lot of odd things with this template. I set up a Weak Ancilla as the first primogen my current crop of Anarch players took down: he was out of his depth, after his time and generally the weakest link in the Camarilla’s chain. Their Mawla, meanwhile, is a Gifted Neonate: he’s only been undead thirty years, but he had a long and hard life as a ghoul before then and he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. I will say that I’m not sure how to make sense out of a Deadly Fledgling or Weak Elder, though…

How to tune your SPCs for conflict

So far, so good, but there is (as I discovered) a world of difference between building an SPC who works on paper and building one who can actually stand up to a group of PCs and make their players feel a bit sweaty. Midway through the Wild Roses chronicle (at the end of Act One, which was about twice the length of the others), I actually had to redraw my entire SPC roster because I’d dramatically underestimated what they needed to accomplish.

The main thing to think about is action economy. Your SPC gets to do one thing in a round, the PCs get to do one each.

Obviously the easiest way around this is to bring minions via the Background dots. Retainers and Allies have mechanical details already, as does the Haven: Watchmen perk (most of my SPCs have this one), but if you really want to crank the odds against your PCs, build an SPC with a big Herd and lean into the “perform basic services” aspect. When push comes to shove, a Herd can put a lot of bodies into play and enough Weak dice pools can overwhelm any PC, one bare-minimum point of damage at a time. Ask the Roses how unnerving it was to set up and bushwhack a Toreador ancilla only to discover he’d turned up with thirty men against the four of them and a pig.

For an SPC to feel powerful one-on-one they have to build dice pools big enough that they can afford to split them between players if they need to. Pick up extra dice from Specialities (don’t be afraid to give an SPC a signature weapon and corresponding speciality, that extra die goes a long way). Build bigger defensive pools with Celerity: Rapid Reflexes and Fleetness. And don’t be afraid to Blood Surge for more dice, especially since an SPC can and should be throwing around higher Blood Potency numbers than some playable neonate.

Santino, who has one dot in hoo, a whole bunch of useful Disciplines.
Oblivion’s Sight, Lethal Body and Daunt go a long way!

After that it’s a question of Disciplines and tactics. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you some ideas to get started with. A lot of these ideas will involve going deep into one Discipline: the template I’ve shown above often gives them four or five dots in one place and I’m not afraid to use them.

  • stop themselves being attacked by throwing around a crowd control Discipline like Presence: Daunt, Dread Gaze or Majesty, or Potence: Earthshock, or the stealth hit of Fortitude: Flesh of Marble (not exactly crowd control, but serves the same purpose of keeping player attacks off your back). Oblivion, the way the Lasombra play it, is pretty good for incapacitating players, especially in social conflicts (stack Oblivion: Cloak of Shadows and Presence: Daunt for a Lasombra to whom no will not be said).
  • hit hard enough that they can Impair a player in one round and force someone to play defensively. Protean: Feral Claws or Potence: Prowess are good picks here, and once the SPC’s Hunger builds up a swift and brutal combat feeding with Potence: Brutal Feed can rip through a player’s health track. I used this with Celerity: Blink to create a three-round-kill sheriff who, alone, could incapacitate any one of my PCs.
  • facetank! Fortitude is a powerhouse of a Discipline for SPCs. Resilience, Toughness and Defy Bane will give your character a longer Health track, make it take longer to fill up, and manage the Aggravated damage that could incapacitate them quickly. Prowess from Pain bears special mention here as it puts more dice in the SPC’s pools and keeps them fighting for longer. Socially, Unswayable Mind and Fortify the Inner Facade keep the SPC ticking over nicely. And word must always go out to Defy Bane, which is perfect for extending a Conflict just that little bit longer without making it feel insurmountable.
  • bring some friends! Animalism is the classic Discipline for this one: bring a Famulus along, and either Unliving Hive or Enduring Beasts to keep ’em effective for longer. At the very top end, Animal Dominion can keep multiple PCs occupied. Oblivion can also work for this if you have Cults of the Blood Gods and fancy going a bit necromantic: nobody should mess with a Hecata on home turf if they know what’s good for them.
  • flatten the players’ dice pools. Animalism: Quell the Beast or Blood Sorcery: Extinguish Vitae take options and outcomes away from players and make them feel powerless in a given situation. In social conflicts, Dominate: Dementation chips away at available Willpower and that has a huge knock-on effect in terms of player resources. At least, it does if yours are as reroll-happy as the Wild Roses were. Be careful with this one, as players who feel deprived of agency are not happy players. I think you can get away with this once or twice in a story as a big flex, and the SPC who did it will be resented for ever (alas, Baron Kilkennie, I really hoped you’d be their friend).

Why Do It Like This At All?

It is certainly possible to get by without ever setting proper stats for your SPCs, in an “only players roll” style: just use the table on the ST Screen to set appropriate difficulties for all their rolls based on the significance of the challenge they’re up against, and have failure margins impose levels of Health or Willpower damage depending on the situation. (For really scary moments, set a Difficulty they cannot beat – 7 is the highest the screen recommends – and make it clear that they’re rolling to see how bad the inevitable beating is, with each success mitigating a point of damage. Kind of a “saving throw.”)

However, I like to build my SPCs in more depth. This gives me more of an idea of who they are as people, and how they work as vampires, and how that makes my setting work – who takes care of what essential responsibilities in each domain, and how? It also reassures me that I’m engaging my players within the same rules that they use to interact with my world. It feels more fair. Not every group is so far up the trust tree that we can abandon the dice altogether and play mother-may-I for over a hundred Sunday evenings. If that lightning hasn’t struck again, I think it’s important to operate within a shared set of rules, and apply those rules to my gameplay as well.

I hope all this has been of some use to you. If it has, let me know in the comments. If there’s something else you want to ask about V5, hit me up there too: I have some backed-up Vampire thoughts after a year of finally running the current edition.